Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I just watched this film and didn’t quite know what to make of it.

I usually enjoy films like this; sweet and romantic, with vivid imagery and significant conversations.

This one fell a little flat, somehow. Maybe it was because I grew up in the Middle East. One of my closest friends at school was Yemeni. I was submerged in the Arabian culture, and even met plenty of bedouins.

The thing that stands out about these people is that they are intrinsically tough, but a lifestyle of riches and ease has made them softer. Their natures are harsh, but they are the most generous, warm and hospitable people I have ever met. The desert folk are certainly not as affectionate as, say, the Lebanese or the Syrians, or even the Moroccans. However, they have a charm of their own, a charm which is years of strife in the heat and strong family connections and a deep sense of self-less generosity.

Salmon fishing in the Yemen is a story about a sheikh who wants to bring salmon fishing to his people in Yemen, a scientist who strongly opposes the absurd notion of taking British salmon to a torrid country, and the young woman who works for the sheikh, and plays a large part in persuading the scientist (Dr. Alfred Jones) to help make the project happen.

Essentially, this is a love story. The story of a scientist in a dead-end marriage, a young woman who has promised herself to a British soldier whom she barely knows, and a sheikh intent on changing his homeland to make it better for his people and join the tribes together.

Growing up in the Middle-East, the whole tribe thing was very much a real situation. My husband, who also grew up there, bore the brunt of it. He went to an all-boys government school, populated by the sons of bedouins, and if you looked a certain way, or talked differently, you were bullied. If you were friends with a boy with that particular surname, then the boys of another surname would harass you and attack you. He was called ‘Bush’ because he was white, and came from England, and the boys hated ‘Bush’ because Bush bombed other countries. He had to survive by mocking them and their ways, and learning how to fight. Only when he fought them, was he accepted as their equal. It was ultimately tribal, and small boys learned from older boys who learned from their parents.

On the girls side, it was less violent and more catty. It was more bragging about how many princesses they know and who’s mother was friends with which princess. If a girl was from a revered tribe, the other girls would treat her royally. For me, it was disgusting, and I wanted no part of it. For that, I was made to feel like a ratty little girl from the slums who sweats. Ugh, how could she sweat?! How undignified. Look at her, let’s ignore her because she is not as pretty as us and her hair is not straight. Look at her uniform, and my goodness, she uses the same school bag every year?! That was honestly the reason why a lot of girls shunned me or looked down on me. They all followed fashion trends when it came to accessories and because my parents were British and working class, they didn’t see fit to waste money on a new bag when I already had a perfectly useful one. So while all the other girls had their gleaming, satin trim Lulu Catty bags, I walked in with my square pattern, solid bag coloured a drab brown.

Of course, as I grew older, and my little enemies became my very close friends, because bags no longer mattered and deep down, these girls were wonderful and had deep, understanding personalities. I am still in contact with a few of them and they are some of the truest friends I have ever had. I learned that tribal feuds were very real, but also not as nuanced as the days of yore because everybody’s lifestyle had changed.

The point is, of course, that Salmon Fishing in the Yemen portrayed a glorified and unrealistic Arab sheikh. Even when they were speaking with each other, I had to laugh. Every man had a different dialect, and some were speaking Standard Arabic, which is like Shakespeare to desert-folk. They only use it for poetry and when they recite the Qur-an. Literally nobody, ESPECIALLY not a bedouin, speaks like that. I know I am nitpicking. I know. But for me, it dimmed the magic of the story somewhat.

Then we move on to the story itself. The plot was actually wonderful. It was a story of survival, faith, a merging of cultures, acceptance and ultimately, of course, love. If you took the love equation out of it all, the story would have been magnificent. However I think the filmmakers tried way too hard. They romanticised the sheikh to an absurd level. I found it hard to buy his character, namely because it was a version designed to fit the Western ideals of good and bad. It wasn’t true to Yemen or the Arabs.

I felt there was no chemistry between the lead actor (Obi Wan in the prequel series! Ewan McGregor) and actress (Emily Blunt, who is brilliantly beautiful, I have to say). I didn’t see why they had to fall in love, they basically had nothing in common and certainly nothing real to talk about. Blunt’s character was grieving for her army boyfriend throughout their ‘courtship’, so falling for Dr. Jones seemed vastly inappropriate and exceedingly uncomfortable, especially when her boyfriend was miraculously found alive. Dr. Jones said some dubious things to him, and it really didn’t go down well for me or add to his character. Not to mention that he was already married!? I didn’t like how he left his wife, sending her a text saying ‘it’s for the best.’ That was cruel and harsh. If there had been a real reason to be so horrid, it would have made sense, but to me, marriage is sacred, and one could at least make a show of trying, rather than scarpering at the call of the first attractive young woman. It was ridiculous and cheap.

To be honest, I didn’t feel invested in the story. The dialogue was dry and tried too hard to appeal to emotions, ultimately failing to convince me of anything.

I heard this film was based on a book, but frankly I have no interest in reading it. Who knows, it might be brilliant, but I just didn’t buy it. I hate that sometimes other cultures are ‘Westernised’ to fit into the Western ideal or understanding. They are romanticised and made to seem ethereal and magical, when in reality they are just other people living their lives just like we are.

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Saving Mister Banks

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I watched this film thousands of miles above ground, above clouds, amid bouts of extremely nauseating turbulence. Everytime the plane lurched downwards or swung sideways my heard thundered like a thousand hammers, and my fingers curled ever tighter around the arm rest.

Glancing at my sister beside me, I saw that she was very much the same way. Only she didn’t let films distract her, she suffered in face-on agony. Nobody else seemed perturbed. The fellow to my left had his head covered with the thin airplane blankets, and the fellow next to him was nodding his head, faint music wafting my way.

And so I watched Saving Mr Banks, pausing every time an especially vicious lurch of the metal cabin took over my senses, my mind drifting to the leagues between my feet and the rocky grounds of the Arabian desert.

Slowly, though, the film began to creep over my fear. I was absorbed into it, and my terror became an underlying itch that was almost entirely ignored.

It was lovely. Emma Thompson never ceases to evoke my admiration. She carries herself with such potent charm. The little quirks about her; her eyebrow thrusts, her scornful looks, her straight back and her flawless irritability made what could have been sombre, mirthful. Tom Hanks slid right into the character of the typically American, typically loud and excessively friendly Walt Disney, as he is wont to do. Thompson and Hanks had a humorous relationship on camera, goaded by Disney’s attempts to please the ever irked Mrs. P L Travers. The combination of old classics and new … abecedarians made for a pleasant watch.

 

SAVING MR. BANKS

 

I especially enjoyed how close Ginty kept Mary Poppins to her heart. She loved the woman, much as I did when I first read about her. The film portrays what the producers, the author and Walt Disney himself went through in the making of Mary Poppins, and truly it is a refreshing insight into the old classic.

Not many films are so well made that they capture one’s feelings. Especially one whose feelings are so distraught as mine were during that dreadful, dreadful flight.

I would completely recommend Saving Mr Banks to anybody who sees sentiment as an old comrade, and who cherishes old classics and has a sight for a well made film. It is not for impatient children. I also read a review which said that it was not for people who didn’t like Disney. Personally I find Disney too wishy washy and excessive, and yet I loved this film. It left me in an aura of pleasant thoughtfulness. I also loved Mary Poppins (the book, more than the film). The film attracted me because of Julie Andrews, whom I loved in The Sound of Music. I adored the way Mary Poppins was portrayed; she was just how I imagined she would be! Naturally the film wasn’t entirely in keeping with the book, and I haven’t watched it more than thrice, I imagine. However this whole story about Mrs P L Travers and Walt Disney and waiting twenty years and her absolute correctness and her history.. Oh dear it all combined and exploded in my mind and there I was weeping tears of sadness and sentiment on my seat high up above the clouds, all puffy and white. And I thought to myself, thought I, “Well by gosh, Lenora. You shall be wanting to read Mary Poppins again!”

And so I shall. So I shall.

 

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